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Landscape and garden design can be an overwhelming endeavor to take on, especially for novices who believe they were born without a green thumb. Throw in a small outdoor space – especially a hardscape heavy one such as a terrace or rooftop – and it can be completely overwhelming. Having to decide how to utilize the square footage of a small patio or porch can overwhelm even the bravest DIY-er. The benefits of welcoming a container garden into your home should outweigh the anxiety. Developing a plan is the clearest path to successfully creating a beautiful and functional outdoor space, particularly a small space where every square foot counts.


Both young homeowners occupying their first homes and older, retired condo dwellers recently relinquishing their homes in the suburbs are embracing the benefits of container gardening in smaller spaces. After all, gardening is mood boosting, can sustain us and help to protect health and lifecycle of birds, bees and butterflies, beautifies our living spaces, connects us to nature – the list goes on. Living in smaller spaces such as a condo or apartments can often reduce daily access to nature so we need to work harder to bring the wonders of nature closer.


Container gardens allow us to create a garden in spaces of any size – providing a tiny canvas and instant gratification for beauty. And since the best way to become successful at something is to start small, container gardening is a great first step for a gardening novice. There are some basics that need to be considered to be successful, selecting plants that fit a space’s natural elements such as orientation to sun and shade, access to water and protection from wind – but with an educated selection, potted plants can provide instant gratification.

Beautiful flowers in a planter bowl

Where there is a will there is a way. Smaller planters can accommodate small spaces.

Design choices – such as a monochromatic approach to plantings – will help a small space feel classy and uncluttered. The smaller the space, the more limited the plant palette should be to create a professional look. Selecting fewer colors or plant choices that repeat creates a calming rhythm in any garden but particularly in a small space.


Utilizing window boxes, railing planters and narrow trough planters to reduce the footprint in a small space allows for mobility without reducing beauty. Many clients that we work with have tiny terraces so we incorporate perimeter plantings into their designs – creating privacy without reducing their outdoor living space. This multi-purpose approach to exterior design priorities all of the functions of a small space. Vertical gardening – using vertical planes such as walls, railings or fences to hang plantings – further reduces the need for floorspace to create a pleasing and productive garden.


Thinking outside of the box when creating gardens in small spaces is crucial – a planter can be a thing of beauty and also a workhorse in your space. No railings to define the edges of patio steps, a porch perimeter or small retaining walls? Select planters that create a barrier, define a space and create beauty at the same time. We work with many clients who struggle with defining their porches and patios to create definition and privacy. We often use low trough planters to create a private paradise – visually defining the edges of space to keep young and old visitors from falling while engulfing the homeowner in beauty.


More and more, we are utilizing evergreen and perennial plant material to create a year-round base and simply swapping out the seasonal annuals. This approach requires a larger investment upfront but saves money in the long run. And, for those of us who hate to throw away plants, there is less waste. Just like in a large garden, longer-lived shrubs and perennials are given the opportunity to root and create a home. And, some of our favorites like Coral Bells actually do better in containers than in the ground.

Small planters with big personalities

Repeating color schemes help create a calming effect on your small space.

Vegetable gardening has always been popular but becomes more-so during tough times. Victory gardens sustained Americans during the depression, the 1970s introduced us to Earth Day and renewed our interest in growing produce at home and Covid forced us to become more sustainable and embrace the benefits growing our own food at home. And all we need to grow our own food is sunshine, soil with organic matter and water.


However, kitchen gardens can be messy and unattractive, the last thing you want in a small space. By incorporating vegetables and herbs into ornamental container gardening designs, they become more accessible to kitchens for regular use in cooking and by snipping a little bit here and there the seasonal designs remain beautiful.


Even our best intentions can become derailed – after a long day amidst our busy lives, cooking is hard enough without adding the pressures of “farming” herbs and vegetables. Self-watering planters, that require minimal maintenance, are an effective tool for reducing the workload of gardening. Selecting planters at the right height to keep our bodies healthy or tools that make light of gardening tasks are crucial. And, selecting plants that work well in our spaces will ensure success.

Self-watering planters are a sustainable solution

Self-watering planters take the pressure off gardening, requiring little maintenance.

Small space homeowners are not the only ones embracing the benefits of container gardening. Apartment developers are prioritizing sustainable practices – such as LEED construction methods and materials – as well as creating outdoor spaces that welcome renters. They are creating restful spaces – terraces and rooftops – with green roofs, community vegetable and herb gardens, and outdoor dining spaces decorated with seasonal containers. They are making an investment in their tenants by creating social spaces, preserving urban agriculture and fostering interaction between community members.


Some metropolitan areas require restaurants with outdoor dining spaces to include a certain percentage of green space in their sidewalk cafe – railing planters, landscaping and decorative planters – that create aesthetically pleasing boulevards and greener neighborhoods. These jurisdictions are also prioritizing the physical, mental and emotional benefits of plants even in tiny outdoor areas.


Developing beautiful and livable outdoor spaces is not difficult – simply incorporate elements such as comfortable furniture, outdoor pillows, rugs, and lanterns, fire pits or heaters for colder months and greenery for seasonal container gardens. A well-set table with whimsical tableware, a vibrant tablecloth and fantastic food – maybe even grown in your own tiny vegetable garden – will complete the experience. Whether working with an experienced exterior stylist to maximize your space or becoming inspired by the wealth of information on social media, creating beauty in a small garden space can elevate it to your favorite room in the house.

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